It's normal for babies to develop rashes from as early as a few days old, as their sensitive skin adapts to a different environment. Most rashes are harmless and go away on their own.
But if your baby has developed a rash and seems unwell, or if you're worried, see your GP to find out the cause and receive any necessary treatment. It's especially important to be aware of the symptoms of meningitis. This guide may give you a better idea of the cause of the rash, but don't use it to diagnose your baby's condition. Always see a GP for a proper diagnosis.
This page covers the following common rashes in babies:
- Baby acne (neonatal acne)
- Cradle cap
- Erythema toxicum (the "normal newborn rash")
- Hand, foot and mouth disease
- Sweat rash (miliaria)
- Hives (urticaria)
- Milia (blocked oil glands)
- Nappy rash
- Slapped cheek syndrome
It also describes the warning signs of meningitis and explains what to do if you're worried about your baby.
Babyacne (neonatal acne)
Pimples sometimes develop on a baby's cheeks, nose and forehead within a month of their birth. These tend to get worse before clearing up completely after a few weeks or months. Washing your baby's face with water and a mild moisturiser can improve the appearance of their skin. Avoid acne medicines intended for older children and adults. Pimples or blackheads that develop after three months of age (infantile acne) tend to be more severe and often need medical treatment.
Cradle cap is where yellowish, greasy, scaly patches develop on a baby's scalp. Occasionally, the face, ears and neck are also affected. Cradle cap isn't itchy and shouldn't bother your baby. If your baby is scratching or upset, they may have eczema (see below). Cradle cap is a common condition that tends to develop within two or three months after birth. It usually gets better without treatment in a few weeks or months. Gently washing your baby's hair and scalp with baby shampoo may help to prevent further patches developing.
Eczema is a long-term condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. The most common form is atopic eczema, which mainly affects babies and children but can continue into adulthood. Eczema in babies under six months is sometimes associated with allergies to milk and egg.
Atopic eczema often starts in young babies as a red, itchy rash on the face, scalp and body. As the child gets older, it usually starts to develop in areas with folds of skin, such as behind the knees or on the front of the elbows.
Creams and ointments can often relieve the symptoms.
Half of all newborns develop a blotchy red skin reaction called erythema toxicum, usually at two or three days old. It's a normal newborn rash that won't bother your baby and clears after a few days.
Hand, foot and mouth disease
Hand, foot and mouth disease is a common, viral illness that causes a blistery rash on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, as well as ulcers in the mouth. Your baby may also feel unwell and have a fever.
Treatment isn't usually needed, as the baby's immune system clears the virus, and symptoms go away after about 7 to 10 days. If you're worried, see your GP.
Hives (also known as urticaria) is a raised, red itchy rash that appears on the skin. It happens when a trigger (such as a food that your baby is allergic to) causes a substance called histamine to be released into their skin. If your baby gets urticaria during feeding, the condition may be triggered by something they've had to eat or drink. The most common foods are egg and milk, but many other foods can sometimes be the cause.
The urticaria rash is usually short-lived and can be controlled with antihistamines. If your baby gets hives repeatedly, it's important to see your GP to discuss possible allergies.
Impetigo is a highly contagious bacterial infection of the surface layers of the skin, which causes sores and blisters. It's not usually serious, but you can visit your GP for a prescription of antibiotics, which should clear the infection within 7 to 10 days.
About half of all newborns develop tiny (1-2mm) white spots, called milia, on their face. These are just blocked pores and usually clear within the first four weeks of life.
Nappy rash occurs when the skin around the baby's nappy area becomes irritated. This is often caused by prolonged exposure to wee or poo, but can sometimes be the result of a fungal infection or rare skin condition.
You can usually reduce nappy rash by taking simple steps to keep your baby's skin clean and dry, and using a barrier cream if needed. Antifungal cream may be necessary if the rash is caused by a fungal infection. Read more about nappies and nappy rash.
Ringworm is a common fungal skin infection that causes a ring-like red rash almost anywhere on the body (the baby's scalp, feet and groin are common areas).
It's usually easily treated using over-the-counter creams.
Scabies is a common infestation of the skin that can affect people of all ages. It's caused by tiny mites that burrow into the skin. It's often spread between family members, so when babies get scabies it's usually because someone else in the family had it recently. Babies with scabies develop tiny and very itchy spots all over the body, including on the soles of the feet, armpits and genital area. Treatment with creams that kill the scabies mite needs to be given to the whole family at the same time for it to be effective.
Slapped cheek syndrome is a viral infection particularly common in children and babies. It typically causes a bright red rash on both cheeks and a fever. Most babies won't need treatment, as slapped cheek syndrome is usually a mild condition that passes in a few days.
A heat rash, sometimes called miliaria or prickly heat, may flare up when your baby sweats - for example, because they're dressed in too many clothes or the environment is hot and humid. It's a sign your baby's sweat glands have become blocked. They may develop tiny red bumps or blisters on their skin, but these will soon clear without treatment.